Fairview Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel – Remnants of Railroad History in North Dakota

Cartwright, North Dakota.

Regular readers will likely remember this image of the Fairview Bridge near Cartwright. The drone photograph features a decommissioned railroad bridge that we visited last September. The bridge was built in 1913 where it crosses the Yellowstone River just south of the confluence with the Missouri River. If you look toward the far end of the bridge, you’ll see the counterweights meant to raise a section of the bridge to allow the passage of steamboats as they traversed the river.

That section was lifted only once during construction to test the mechanism. By the time the bridge was finished, there was no more steamboat traffic. The lift never actually needed to be used. The $500,000 bridge actually allowed vehicles as well as trains to cross and a watchman stationed there provided the protection that kept trains and vehicles from colliding on the bridge. It wasn’t as dangerous as it sounds as people knew the train schedules, passenger trains once a day, freight trains once every other day. Vehicles were free to cross the bridge at any other time.

Fairview Bridge-3

By 1955, another bridge for automobiles was built downstream, so the need for vehicles to cross the railroad bridge was no longer necessary. That bridge has obviously been modernized over the years, but its easily visible from the railroad bridge.

Fairview Bridge-2

The railroad abandoned the line in the mid-1980s, and fences removed the ability for vehicles to cross, though pedestrians are welcome to walk the quarter-mile span.

Fairview Bridge-5

Nearing the end of the bridge, you begin to see clearly the entrance to the railroad tunnel. Back in the day when the bridge was shared, cars and trucks would exit the bridge to the right and avoid the tunnel which was not equipped for vehicle traffic.

Fairview Bridge-6

As we approached the tunnel, we saw a woman just exiting and walking in our direction. During our short visit in passing, we learned that she didn’t go all the way to the other end of the tunnel, but her husband did and he would be along later. He eventually appeared as we were about to enter the tunnel.

Fairview Bridge-7

The tunnel is dark and appears to have no exit on the other side, but it’s actually curved going northbound on our way in, we would eventually turn and exit going eastbound. The center section is completely dark and our cell phone flashlights came on to avoid the tunnel edges where 4×4 timbers rose out of the floor of the tunnel. You can see some of them in the entrance photo above. They are no fun to trip over. Speaking from experience. Fortunately, I didn’t fall.

Fairview Bridge-8

As we exited the tunnel and turned around to walk back, we could easily see the damaged east entrance. It has been shored up by large timbers but it’s easy to see why authorities might consider that it might be time to close the tunnel before someone gets hurt or killed.

I have posted a few extra images on my Flickr site for you to pixel peep. Click on any image above to visit the gallery, or you can go directly to the album by clicking here. On a side note, the article I read about potentially closing the tunnel was written in 2017. It isn’t closed yet, so maybe they consider the tunnel safe now that it’s been reinforced by those beams.

John Steiner

9 comments

  1. I imagine that bridge with a steam locomotive rolling over it, and what a beautiful scene that must have been. But then I hope the passengers all closed their windows in time before they went into the tunnel! 😀

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